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This is the tenth in our series of stories celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of youth in our community. These inspirational young adults are enriching our lives with their passion and commitment to the betterment of society.


Olivia Cavanagh

10808322_736525056430048_899836373_nOn February 3, 2014 Olivia was part of a group of youth who visited my constituency office on Shelbourne Street. They came with a simple message — one that was being delivered to MLAs across our province. In 2007 British Columbia promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 33% relative to 2007 levels by 2020. MLAs were being asked by youth to “Defend our Future” and commit to the 2020 reduction targets. I did.

But the irony was not lost on me when we met Olivia at Discovery Coffee on Oak Bay Avenue on October 10. Just the day before I had delivered my response to the Speech from the Throne . In it I challenged all MLAs to find the courage and leadership to recognize the challenge of global warming for what it is. I challenged all MLAs to recognize the folly of solely basing our economy on hypothetical exports of a commodity that may or may not find a market elsewhere.  I argued that we could, and should show leadership in the development of a diversified, sustainable, 21st century economy and subsequently introduced an amendment to the Throne Speech to add:

1509042_289074524577135_682734926_nAnd that the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia accepts the responsibility of demonstrating the leadership to choose growth, to move forward and create a legacy for our children, but also recognizes that this leadership means not gambling our future prosperity on a hypothetical windfall from LNG, and instead supports the development of a diversified, sustainable, 21st century economy.

My amendment was defeated 65-1 and so I wondered just whose future was actually being defended.

But having the opportunity to interview Olivia the next day was both uplifting and inspirational. Being in the presence of Olivia’s infectious joy and passion made it impossible for me to remain saddened by what had transpired in the Legislature the previous day.

Olivia is incredibly passionate about the environment and she has immersed herself in numerous environmental initiatives both inside and outside of Oak Bay High School. For example, having been a member of the Oak Bay High Environmental Club since Grade 9, Olivia and a friend decided to head up the club this year.  Olivia describes herself as more of an activist than a leader and believes we all need to step up to protect our environment for future generations. Particularly motivating for Olivia was the impassioned speech given by Emma Watson, British actor and Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, at the recent United Nations Climate Summit. Olivia was quick to quote from Emma Watson “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

rugbyOlivia was born and raised in Victoria, attending Monterey Elementary, Margaret Jenkins Elementary (for one year while Monterey was being seismically upgraded and turned into a middle school), back to Monterey Middle School (for Grade 8) and she is currently in her graduating year. She’s been on the honour roll at Oak Bay ever since she first arrived there in Grade 9.  In addition to taking on a heavy load in the sciences this year, Olivia is also studying ceramics — her favourite course. Now in her third year of school ceramics, and a regular on her potter’s wheel at home, Olivia describes it as a “calming and relaxing” creative outlet for which “you can always improve”. In addition to her studies, Olivia has enjoyed playing soccer with Bays United since she was 6 and rugby with the Oak Bay Girls’ Team since Grade 10.

447_10152504571130355_1803251455_nOlivia is very interested in food security issues and in spring 2013 she travelled to Hornby Island where she stayed on an organic farm to learn about their food production. This opportunity arose through World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farmers (WWOOF), an organization that, in return for volunteer help, offers food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles. During her time on Hornby, Olivia developed a sincere “appreciation for the amount of work [required] to produce the majority of your own food”. In addition, she was fascinated to learn how to grow and harvest willow shoots for making baskets. Olivia has had opportunities to share her knowledge with others, including giving workshops on veganism and conscious eating. Twice she has presented workshops on food security and water security at the annual student-driven Youth Climate Action Summit, run by YesBC (Youth for Environmental Stewardship), a locally based non profit organization dedicated to empowering young environmental leaders.

For the past 3 years, Olivia has been attending regular meetings with the Sierra Club of BC’s Youth Environmental Leadership Program (YELP). This has provided her with opportunities to give presentations to elementary and middle school students on a variety of environmental issues. Of course, Olivia is active locally in attending as many environmental rallies as she can; particularly those related to proposed heavy oil pipeline and coastal tanker projects.

1380112_10153240467960147_102847127_nDuring Olivia’s grade 11 year, she was in charge of coordinating the school’s recycling program. She lends support to the students running the program this year and “views sustainability of the program as important as the program itself. Olivia credits Derek Shrubsole, a teacher at Oak Bay High School, as someone who has been particularly inspirational to her. He “helped us with the whole recycling program and is the teacher-sponsor of the Environment Club at Oak Bay High”. Mr. Shrubsole describes Olivia as a very positive, genuine person who has a mature outlook and understands how to make connections relating environmental sustainability and the protection our environment for future generations.

Recently, the Environment Club was approached by a local resident concerning a potential development on Yale Street in Oak Bay where 20 out of 22 mature Garry Oak trees on the lot would be cut down to make way for townhouses. Olivia and her friends were affronted by this apparent disregard for nature and immediately took up the cause, including enlisting me in a video they produced to raise public awareness.

Somehow Olivia also finds time to volunteer in the community. She has been a dedicated volunteer with Operation Trackshoes for 7 years and has volunteered with the Oak Bay High Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock campaign. Last year she shaved her head for the cause.

Olivia also ran a bake sale to raise funds for Tour de Rock. Olivia works part time at 2 local sustainable-food restaurants, typically clocking 8-10 hours per week. And from a very young age, she has always enjoyed being outdoors, loved camping, biking, hiking and, more recently, surfing and kayaking.

IMG_0527Olivia’s future goals include a commitment to convince others about the importance of environmental awareness and stewardship. She has realized how much we have to lose unless we take action to protect what we have. She made a point of telling us that she “takes care of her body to live healthy, so why wouldn’t we want to take care of the environment for the future?”

Olivia may take a gap year following graduation, possibly traveling with World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farmers to Indonesia or New Zealand, but plans to further her education and study Marine Biology at university. At the same time, she notes, “I plan to be an environmental activist and I want to surf”.

Olivia is a wonderful, joyful, and engaged young woman who was an absolute delight to interview. We are convinced that Olivia will continue to make a positive difference to the world around her through her proven dedication to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

Thank you Olivia for all that you do to make our community a better place to live in and thank you for empowering me with motivation and enthusiasm on a day that that I woke up feeling somewhat defeated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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